Dunn County Commission meeting centers on property dispute
May 19—MANNING, N.D. — Tensions flared during a regular meeting of the Dunn County Commission on Wednesday, May 17. In contention was a property dispute involving rural road construction on 1U Street in Sec 26, Town 146, Rng 97W.
Dean Olson said he's a fourth generation Dunn County rancher. He believes the county has illegally seized his land to build a new gravel road to the home of one of his neighbors. Commissioner Tracey Dolezal said dirt work for the first half of the road has already been completed. Dunn County Roads Dept Office Manager Lori Tabor said the total length of the gravel road being built is 2,647 feet.
Interim County Auditor Sally Whittingham provided financial documentation for the project. According to Whittingham, the total cost for this road is $76,615 and $15,000 of that has already been spent.
Initial action to build the road occurred on
Minutes from that meeting state a motion was made, "for the county to construct a 16' width road on the south end of the section line, to connect with L St. and furthermore, not be constructed to regular county specs, with consideration to continue on to U St."
The motion passed in a 4-1 vote, with Cody Buehner as the lone vote in opposition. During the Wednesday meeting Buehner insisted that although he disagreed with the previous commission's decision, he has an obligation as chairman to enforce it.
"The commission approved building 115th (Avenue); 1U (Street), to the best of our knowledge, is a county road. So I have to move forward and I have to build that road," Buehner said.
Olson repeatedly asked Buehner why they're ignoring existing ordinance. He cited minutes from a special commission meeting on Sept. 25, 1980, regarding a request from then landowner Arthur Olson and real estate developer Joe Frenzel to rezone the Mountain Range Estates Subdivision. A motion to approve this request was passed.
That meeting minutes document states the following, "Mr. Frenzel assured the Board that the only roads in the development that will be the county's responsibility will be those roads that are already designated as county roads. The other proposed roads in the subdivision, as shown in the plat, will be developed by the owners at their expense, and easements to the proposed roads will be granted to the owners by Mr. and Mrs. Olson."
Olson also said that his uncle, Arthur, ensured that everyone had access to their land with road and utility easements when the subdivision was created. Dunn County Assistant State's Attorney Ross Sundeen claimed Dean Olson's father signed 1U over to Dunn County, but was unable to provide proof.
"What we've asked for is proof that someone signed it over to the county," Dean's wife Barb Olson said during the meeting. "We've been asking for that document for the last year. Nobody can come up with it."
The Olson family denounced the project as "government overreach" that seizes their land to build a "free road" for a neighboring 40 acre vacation home property owned by Nathan Brown and boost his property value.
Dolezal pushed back and said a decades old zoning ordinance is not relevant to this discussion.
"A lot has changed in 43 years or 42 years. Bottom line, there needs to be access. You can't landlock someone... But the county does have the authority to improve a section line," Dolezal said. "That subdivision would never have been approved now. You would have to come in with dedicated roads built. It's kind of a mess on how it ended up being developed."
Olson said he's never prevented anyone, including Brown, from accessing their own property, and that at times he's done the opposite by plowing paths for neighbors who needed to get in or out of the subdivision. He explained Brown already has access to his property via 1L Street. He also argued county plans for this road will inevitably create a snow trap.
"I've built thousands of miles of road in the oilfield. I know what it takes to build a road... That is building a snow trap," Olson said.
In an interview after the meeting Commissioner Bob Kleeman concurred with Olson and argued the age of a legal code has no implicit bearing on its relevance, pointing to the U.S. Constitution as an example.
"We've never been able to show that that was a county road on a piece of paper. You can write anything on a piece of paper, but if this is legal there should be a document that says we (Dunn County) own that road," Kleeman said.
Dolezal further contended that projects like this are necessary to pave the way for potential future development.
"We want families to move in, we need housing desperately. And we started a program last fall about subdivision improvements. We set aside $100,000 in our budget to help residents in subdivisions or business subdivisions," she said during the meeting.
Yet, Olson said a major factor in his family's decision to continue ranching where they have for several generations is the lack of development.
"Every day we wake up and oh my God, it's so beautiful outside. The air is fresh and clean. We like it that way. We're really glad we live a mile off the main county road so we don't have to look out at your trucks going up and down the road and hear air horns at night. And, you know, we're just private people," Olson said. "We don't like conflict either but when somebody pushes us into a corner, we're not gonna lay down for 'em."
Appearing at the meeting via zoom call, Brown said he attempted to build a pathway himself but was told by then County Roads Superintendent Mike Zimmerman that it would have to meet standards that were financially prohibitive at the time.
"I've done nothing but try to accommodate the neighbors to the best of my ability," Brown said. "This was not driven by me; the county made this decision. I did not at any time reach out to the county or petition them to build this road for me. This is a decision made entirely by the county. And I applaud you guys for seeing fit to go ahead and follow through with that."
The Press made multiple attempts to arrange a phone interview with Brown, but he was unavailable.
In a post-meeting interview Dean Olson alleged that last May, Brown tore out approximately 800 feet of his four wire fence and replaced it with a single rope electric fence, which he said was insufficient to confine his bulls.
"The fence was never getting put up, nothing was getting moved forward. And I called Commissioner Craig Pelton and he told me, 'Well you're gonna have to build your fence back.' I was still haying and didn't have time to build fence. So I hired a fencing company out of Killdeer," Olson said.
He provided photos of the piled up fence posts and a copy of the $2,656 bill for building the new fence. Olson said in that same timeframe Brown was blading topsoil off his section line without permission, describing Brown as a person who is "not reasonable to negotiate with." He said he feels like he's being bullied by Brown and the county commission, and questioned the accuracy of the county's financial figures for this project.
"This guy (Brown) has broken laws. I said (to the county) that he's torn out fences, he has windrowed topsoil off to the side with no permit to move the dirt. And (commissioners) are gonna reward him by building him a... road," Olson said, suggesting the county should be spending such monies on maintaining existing public roads and paving more of those most frequently used.
During the meeting Olson confronted Buehner about county plans to tear out his new fence for the road construction. Buehner responded that it will be rebuilt but declined to answer additional questions from Olson about the fence.
"That's not what we're here for today," Buehner said. "I'm sorry, but we are moving forward. I appreciate everybody's concern and their opinion. There's no emotion that is needed. This decision has been finalized. And unless somebody (else) sitting here wants to say something, we're moving forward (with other items) on the agenda."
Dunn County Commission meetings are held at 9 a.m. on the first and third Wednesday of each month.
Correction: A previous photo caption incorrectly stated that Brown's property is parcel number 01-2986-017, it's actually 01-2986-021.